Rockefeller Center Christmas tree arrives in NYC: 8 little-known facts about the famous fir

What happens to the Rockefeller Center tree after Christmas?

Trees are donated to Habitat for Humanity to build homes for the needy.

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree — we need thee more than ever.

The holidays can't come soon enough, so it’s a good thing that the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has arrived in New York City.

The 2020 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is prepared for setting on a platform at Rockefeller Center Saturday, Nov. 14, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

This year’s evergreen, a 75-foot Norway spruce, was donated by Al Dick of Daddy Al's General Store in Oneonta, N.Y., the Associated Press reports. The festive fir was recently chopped down, driven into Manhattan, and lifted into place in the heart of the city on Saturday.

“This year, we just feel the tree is vital,” said Rob Speyer, CEO of Tishman Speyer, Rock Center’s owner, in a media release. Speyer added that the company is “particularly proud to continue the joyous tradition this year” as the coronavirus pandemic has already canceled other iconic holiday traditions in New York, like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

This year’s evergreen – a 75-foot tall Norway spruce – was donated by Al Dick of Daddy Al’s General Store in Oneonta, N.Y. AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)


The famous fir will sparkle with over 50,000 lights when it’s lit next month — however, tradition will be tweaked for COVID-19 concerns. In a reasonable (but nevertheless Grinch-like) twist, in-person spectators are banned from attending the lighting ceremony. Instead, fans are invited to watch the tree-lighting ceremony on television, on Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.

More information on how to safely visit the tree in the Big Apple will be announced in the weeks to come, Rockefeller Center said in a statement; the date for the tree's eventual removal has not yet been determined.

In the meantime, grab a cup of cocoa and brush up on these 8 little-known facts about America's most famous Christmas tree.

Recruitment is extensive, and the tree is donated

Paula Dick, second right, with her daughter Jade, father Al, mother Susan, and daughter Autumn, left to right, poses for a photo in front of the 75-foot tall Norway Spruce that her family donated to serve as this year’s Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in Oneonta, N.Y. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Tishman Speyer)

Finding the right fir is a serious business, according to Rockefeller Center's head gardener Erik Pauze.

“Sometimes I visit a tree several times over the year, [to] watch it grow or fill out," he told NYC Go. Pauze said that the tree often comes from the tristate area and must be thick enough that onlookers can't "see the sky through it." Above all, however, he trusts his instincts when choosing the centerpiece tree. 

"When I see the perfect one, I just know it,” Pauze explained.

Surprisingly, Rockefeller Center doesn’t pay a dime for the timber — it is traditionally donated by its owners. The tree is often brought in during the night, when the streets are less crowded.

It’s usually a Norway spruce

Not just any tree likely has the chops to be the Christmas tree. According to Rockefeller Center, a mature Norway spruces measuring 75 tall by 45-feet diameter is typically selected for the big display.

Those interested in submitting their favorite fir for possible consideration can send more information to Rockefeller Center here.

The 2016 Christmas tree stood lit up after the lighting ceremony for the 84th annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting. 


The tradition began with a sentimental start

According to Mental Floss, the Rockefeller Tree tradition began with a sentimental start in 1931, in the heat of the Great Depression.

“The Depression-era workmen building [Rockefeller Center] were so grateful to have jobs that they decorated a spruce tree with strings of cranberries, paper garlands and a few tin cans,” the outlet said of the tree’s origin story. “On Dec. 24, they lined up beneath the tree and received a small Christmas miracle: paychecks.”

Two years later, in 1933, the first official Rockefeller Center holiday tree welcomed the masses.

The 80th Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree was raised in New York’s Rockefeller Center in 2012. The 80-foot Norway spruce, donated by Joseph Balku of Flanders, N.J., was strung with 30,000 multi-colored LEDs on 5 miles of wire, and topped with a Swarovski Crystal Star.


The tree was once silver

In 1949, the annual Rockefeller Tree was painted silver and covered in a rainbow range of lights, Smithsonian reports. The spectacle was said to be so bright that it caused one of the worst traffic jams covered by The New York Times in years.

The 900-pound topper is made of Swarovski crystals

A glitzy star sparkling with 3 million Swarovski crystals made its debut at the top of the famous fir in 2018 and has stayed ever since, per Rockefeller Center. The giant bauble designed by architect Daniel Libeskind features 70 glass spikes and weighs 900 pounds.

Libeskind is known for his work with museums across the globe, as well as his vision for the redesign of the World Trade Center.

The 85th annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony was on Nov. 29, 2017.

Visitors (traditionally) come out in droves

In years past, an average of about 125 million people would visit the tree through the holiday season, according to the New York Daily News. It remains to be determined how Rock Center will safely welcome visitors to view the Christmas icon this year, and how many people will come out to see it.


Of course, daredevils have tried to climb it

Though various adventurers have (unsuccessfully) attempted to summit the gigantic tree over the years, one 27-year-old man got all the way to the top in 1979.

Upon arriving at the top, he screamed “Free the 50” in reference to the Americans who were imprisoned at the U.S. embassy in Iran at the time, Mental Floss reports.

Law enforcement officials tactfully talked him down, explaining that his stunt would not help release the captives.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in 2015.


It’s truly a 'giving tree'

After its run at the plaza, the Christmas tree is milled, treated and made into lumber. From there, it's donated to help build homes through Habitat for Humanity, Rock Center reports.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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